home      service centre   |   publications   |   football family   |   competitions   

Copa America said suspended over kidnapping

© Reuters Limited 2001

By Ibon Villelabeitia

BOGOTA, Colombia, June 27 (Reuters) - South America's top international soccer tournament, the Copa America, due to be held in Colombia next month, was put on hold on Wednesday until a kidnapped senior Colombian soccer official is freed, a Colombian spokesman said.

In Argentina, the South American Football Confederation (CSF) president Nicolas Leoz said the organization would make a final decision by Friday on the tournament's future. Earlier, the CSF had said in a statement that the kidnapping "endangered the holding of the Cup."

A spokesman for the Colombian Soccer Federation told Reuters: "The decision which has been notified to the Colombian Federation by the South American Football Confederation is that Copa America has been suspended until Hernan Mejia is released."

The Colombian government, which has pushed to make the event the "Cup of Peace" amid mounting doubts over Colombia's suitability to host the world's oldest soccer tournament, called the CSF's decision a "mistake" that handed the FARC the power to decide if the Copa America stays or goes.

A final suspension would be a blow to President Andres Pastrana, who has invested political capital to improve Colombia's war-tarnished image by holding the 12-nation tournament that would involve some of the world's best soccer players from July 11-29.

Concern over holding the tournament in Colombia intensified after Hernan Mejia Campuzano, vice-president of the Colombian Football Federation, was snatched on Monday by suspected guerrillas from Colombia's biggest rebel group, the FARC, in a rural western area.

Colombia is gripped by a three-way war pitting leftist rebels against outlawed right-wing militias and the army. About 40,000 people have been killed in the last decade.

After a rash of car bombings in cities, Tuesday's kidnapping appeared to be the last straw for the South American confederation. It had ratified Colombia as hosts twice before - on the second occasion after an emergency meeting in Paraguay at the start of this month.

"We can't hide the sun with our hands"
At a news conference late on Wednesday, Education Minister Franciso Jose Lloreda told reporters: "This is unacceptable."

Earlier, Alvaro Fina, president of the Colombian Soccer Federation said: "We can't hide the sun with our hands. If Hernan (Mejia) is not released by Friday, Saturday or Sunday, they will take away the Copa America from us."

Jorge Briceno, alias Mono Jojoy, military boss of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), on Wednesday declined to comment on the kidnapping to reporters.

Rebels and right-wing paramilitaries have pledged not to sabotage the tournament, which will draw tens of thousands of fans to see 10 South American countries plus Canada and Mexico.

Speaking from a demilitarized area under rebel control in southern Colombia where the FARC is scheduled to release on Thursday 242 captured police and soldiers, the government's chief negotiator Camilo Gomez called the decision a "mistake."

"I don't think it is convenient nor right that Copa America depends on the insurgency," Gomez told reporters.

"These boys who have been held captive some for three years and a half want to see the Copa America," Gomez said referring to the captured soldiers and police.

Pastrana has said Campuzano's abduction was not linked to Copa America but that the official was kidnapped at a random road block set up by rebels seeking extortion money.

He has promised to deploy a force of 20,000 men to guarantee safety in the seven cities that will be used as venues.

Earlier on Wednesday, Pastrana called on leftist guerrillas and rightist paramilitaries in an interview with Reuters to call a cease-fire during the event.

"Copa America is not in doubt, Copa America is on, Colombia is ready to host Copa America," Pastrana said in the interview.

Reports provided by

Thursday, 5 July
New Namibia coach rings changes for Egypt trip
Morocco name unchanged squad for World Cup qualifier
Troussier praises Japan's defence at Kirin Cup
Wednesday, 4 July
Monaco's Nonda recalled by DR Congo
South Africa recall Khumalo for 50th cap
Japan beat Yugoslavia 1-0 to win Kirin Cup
Tuesday, 3 July
Japan ready for "final" against Yugoslavia
African soccer digest
Monday, 2 July
Costa Rica home in on World Cup after beating Honduras
Mexico and Jamaica revive World Cup hopes with wins
Scolari insists Brazil will qualify despite Uruguay loss
Sunday, 1 July
Brazil suffer another blow to World Cup hopes
Liberia's World Cup hopes hit by 2-1 loss to Ghana
Ivory Coast rout Madagascar 6-0 in World Cup qualifier
Friday, 29 June
Latapy and Yorke quit international scene
U.S. confident of getting result in Mexico
Boca win Libertadores Cup for second year running
Crisis-hit Mexico face the moment of truth

  Copyright © 1994-2001 FIFA. All rights reserved.
  Copyright © 1994-2001 En-Linea, Inc. All rights reserved.